West Virginia University announced on Friday that sophomore forward Oscar Tshiebwe will not return to the men’s basketball team this season, and while that is certainly a major blow to the Mountaineers it could open opportunities for other plays to step up and fill those minutes.
West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said Friday morning the plan without Tshiebwe is the same as the plan was with him, win a bunch of games. And Huggins said he believes the Mountaineers have the players to do just that.
“Anytime you’re a man down it opens up opportunities,” Huggins said. “It’s all what they make of it, that’s up to them…We can do a lot of things. I think it depends on the opposition, depends on what we’re trying to get.”
During his press conference, Huggins went through several players that could see increased roles in Tshiebwe’s place.
Bridges was the player Huggins talked the most about Friday. The redshirt-freshman was a big recruit for the Mountaineers in 2019 and Huggins has said he was one of WVU’s best players in practice while redshirting last season.
“A year ago JB rebounded the ball better than anybody than Derek [Culver] in practice before we got shut down,” Huggins said. “We were all pumped up and excited about JB getting time. And he made shots, he’s struggled a bit to make shots to this point but I feel 100% confident that he’s a guy that’s going to be able to step out and make shots.”
Playing the 6-foot-7 Bridges at the four spot would give WVU a bit of a smaller lineup than with Tsheibwe, but Huggins said he likes the looks that would give the team.
“I think this gives us the opportunity to spread the floor a little bit more. Guys like JB will be able to spread the floor, make shots and give Derek a lot more room to work down there,” Huggins said. “It spreads the floor and gives Derek so much more room to operate. Let’s be honest, Derek’s by far the best big in the league. To have him iso’d down there is not a bad thing.”
Culver has been WVU’s best player this season, averaging 14.1 points and 9.9 rebounds this season. He and Tshiebwe have struggled at times to play together, but spreading the floor would give the junior more room to work down low.
The hang up with Bridges is that he has not played well to start this season. In 6.4 minutes per game, he is averaging just 1.4 points and 1.2 rebounds while shooting 33.3% from the floor. He is also 1 for 11 on three-pointers.
“Jalen Bridges was one of our top three or four guys in practice a year ago.,” Huggins said. “He rebounded it, passed it, he made open shots. If he can play at the level he played at the end of the year a year ago, we’ve got a heck of a player now.”
Osabuohien is already one of WVU’s top players, averaging 19 minutes per game. A more defensive-oriented forward, Huggins said he likes everything the junior does for the team. Osabuohein struggles staying in the game, however, leading the team with 31 personal fouls (3.1 per game).
“We just want Gabe to stay in the game,” Huggins said. “What Gabe does for us was better than any big we had. We just couldn’t keep him in the game long enough. Gabe’s been extremely valuable to us for a lot of different reasons. He’s not a guy hunting shots, for sure and he can rebound it, he can pass it, he can do a myriad of things we’ve just got to keep him on the floor longer that’s all.”
Osabuohien is averaging 2.7 points, 5.7 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 1.2 steals per game.
Huggins said Matthews could play in Tshiebwe’s spot, but he prefers to keep the junior on the wing where he’s played all season.
“I think [Emmit] could play a little bit of four for us, he did as a freshman,” Huggins said. “We could do that, but I like where Emmitt is. I think he’s in a good place.”
Finally, Ndaiye could be the wild card in replacing Tshiebwe. Huggins has said the plan was originally for the true freshman to redshirt this season but because 2020-21 will not count towards any players’ eligibility, he has the opportunity to play.
“The plan was never to play him, it was to be in practice, go against Derek in practice every day and get better,” Huggins said. “But I wouldn’t have a problem putting him in the game. He was really good yesterday, yesterday was the best that he’s been since he’s been here.”
The 6-foot-10 Ndiaye has appeared in three games this season but has not yet scored a point or grabbed a rebound.
Cottrell would have been the obvious choice to fill Tsehibwe’s role, but the 6-foot-11 true freshman will not play against this season after suffering an Achilles tear against Northeastern last week. Huggins said Cottrell has still been involved since his injury and the team is excited to get him back next season.
“He came into practice yesterday with his scooter and stayed the whole practice because he didn’t want to miss out on anything,” Huggins said. “That’s the kind of guys we’re fortunate enough to have in this program. We’re going to be really good this year but getting Isaiah back does nothing but really elevates us another step up the rung or two.”